For the better part of a decade, Mobb Deep has been subject to significant criticism. Some of it has been deserved, with the M-O-B-B releasing underwhelming music time and again. Interestingly, Prodigy and Havoc have actually fared better when they’ve gone for dolo as of late. Havoc’s best recent production has been seen on Wu-Tang side projects and albums by 50 Cent, Game, and Bad Meets Evil. P Double, on the other hand, has sounded more inspired over Alchemist production on Return of the Mac, and continued to show signs of life on H.N.I.C. Pt. 2. In the third installment of his H.N.I.C. series, Prodigy attempts to maintain that trend.
With its eerie synth-laden beat courtesy of the Alchemist, “Without Rhyme Or Reason” seems to be an exciting opener, yet Prodigy comes through with some laughable lyrics. Sure, P probably catches too much flack for his oft-non-rhyming style (which he proudly claims as his invention in conspiracy theory letters from prison), but that’s really not the issue. It’s flimsy bars: “You should be concerned with yours/ ‘Cause my life is awesome, I’m very successful / I might take a little time off in the tropics / Sip female drinks, laugh and get tan.”
“It feels so good to have my own style / These other rappers should try it, they might like it / They spend so much time copying trends / They don’t even know what it’s like to be themselves” rhymes P. This is an important lyric to remember when listening to the five—count ‘em, five—“thug love” songs “Pretty Thug,” “My Angel,” “Co-Pilot,” “Gangsta Love,” and “What’s Happening.” Sure, “Pretty Thug” features a passable knockoff Alc beat courtesy of Ty Fyffe, but Prodigy inexplicably takes a page from “Quiet Storm (Remix)” collaborator Lil’ Kim and starts his second verse off with a Jamaican accent. “My Angel” features a singer from Day 26, and “Co-Pilot” features Wiz Khalifa. One has to wonder whether Prodigy isn’t the one confused about his musical identity.
On the other hand, some of the most interesting moments of H.N.I.C. 3 are when Prodigy sets aside his New York identity. “Make It Hot” has P taking a page from A$AP Rocky and bringing the South to NYC courtesy of low-end bass and a screwed hook. “Get Money” also dips into this bag, as Prodigy shows he can exist outside the lane he’s known best for—provided the music is well-executed. “Award Show Life” has some pretty good flossing talk and a smooth, flute-laden beat, but the album’s real treat is Mobb Deep’s reunion on “Who You Bullshittin,” which interestingly only features Havoc as an emcee, and Sid Roams on the boards.
When the story of Mobb Deep is told—more specifically, the story of Prodigy—H.N.I.C. 3 won’t be the project that helps highlight an emcee who is considered one of Hip Hop’s very best. What makes 3 listenable in its darkest moments is the production, where P often struggles to sound comfortable. If Prodigy wants to allay talk of his considerable skill having vanished, he’ll have to come better next time around.